When most of us are asked about where we live, our reply is Covington, GA. But we could add, Mystic Falls Virginia, or Sparta Mississippi or Hazard Kentucky, and that is just from some of the TV series that have been produced in our community. You cover a lot of places when you are the Hollywood of the South.
When “Heat of the Night” was being produced for television we were “Sparta Mississippi.” The “real”
Sparta is an unincorporated community is North Eastern Mississippi’s Chickasaw County. But if you “google” Sparta Mississippi the pictures will look just a whole like where you live.
On the weekend of Oct. 10, we became Sparta Mississippi again; just as we were in the late 80s and 90s. Many of the actors from the Heat of the Night series were in town. There was an opportunity to ask questions, as well as a time for autographs and to have your picture taken with the surviving cast members. For some of the cast that are deceased there were some stand in’s that looked a lot like the originals.
Walking the streets of our Sparta for the day were Captain Bubba Skinner (Alan Autry), Nurse Tracy Boggs (Maureen Dowdell), Jimmy Dawes (Afemo Omilami), Officer Randy Goode (Randall Franks), and Cpl. Dee Shepherd (Dee Shaw).
To help recreate Sparta, some of the local restaurants offered specials. The Mystic Grill took its inspiration for the Magnolia Café in the series and offered Catfish Allison with hushpuppies, Mississippi Pot Roast, Skillet Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Fried Okra, and Sawmill Gravy, a fried shrimp po’boy, and mud pie. On the Friday before the return of the Heat of the Night, the cast was entertained at a dinner in the Door Room of the Grill.
Other eating places that helped with the transformation to Sparta were Scoops and the Square Perk. Scoops among its many flavors of ice cream offered Mississippi Mud, The Square Perk offered a “Sparta Burger” for lunch or supper.
There was a concert on the Square to close the evening. The band “Drive Time”, played songs from the TV series, Heat of the Night.
If you want to “visit” Sparta there is a guide for Heat of the Night at the Visitor’s Bureau on Clark Street. You can see the “Police Station” that is in fact the People’s Home Medical or the Magnolia Café that is in fact Gary Massey Insurance. Some of the places you will see are the same we know them today. Two of these places are the Courthouse and the Cemetery off of Conyers Street. There are some eighteen locations identified in the guide from the TV series.
The next time you have to take a short detour for a crew shooting a scene or some other inconvenience, think for a moment or all the benefits of living in the “Hollywood of the South.”
Jenny McDonald, the Director of Tourism and Marketing for the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce, led the weekend celebrating the Heat of the Night Homecoming. She pointed out that our growing tourism is as if another major industry was in town. And it is growing each year. The tentative figures for 2014 is a 120 million dollar impact on our economy as compared with 113 million in 2013. In 2014, 1090 jobs were created because of tourism. This is twenty more than in 2013.
This has a tremendous impact on the taxes collected in our area. The money spent by those visiting our community, as well as the work created by the productions, translates for the average household a reduction of 236.06 in taxes.
To help grow the impact of the filming industry, the Georgia Piedmont Collage is offering a Film and Movie Production Assistance Course. Coming to Piedmont will be the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree in Film and Television Production.
Be prepared to add another name to the list of places you are from. Coming to television on Dec. 10 is the “Coat of Many Colors” to be on NBC. This production, based on the childhood of Dolly Parton, transformed our town to be Sevierville Tennessee, Dolly’s home town in the mid 1950’s. And did you see that opening scene in the movie, “Selma” or the “hotel” in the same movie. That is even another place to say you are from.
It may call for a lot names to answer where we are from, but it is all caught up in the title of being “The Hollywood of the South.”
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.